Monday, July 20, 2009

The Book of Ruth

Yes, the title of this blog is Unbound From Briars which is an allusion to the Blake poem The Garden of Love. Given the frank condemnation of religious oppression contained in that poem, one might think that I am anti-religious, or a term that I've been seeing lately on Andrew Sullivan's blog, anti-theist. I am not. I merely believe that ORGANIZED religion is the greatest corrupter of freedom, as it often imposes it's own morality upon non-subscribers. I think religion and spirituality can be beautiful, given the ability of a person to come to their own personal relationship with their God(s) and their morality.

Today I had a bit of down time (if you read this blog then you may have noticed that the last time that I posted an entry was in April) so I've decided to spend a moment to read from the Bible. Specifically, I would like to share the story and some depictions from the Book of Ruth, which is arguably the greatest love story from the Bible. This story possesses some of the most powerfully romantic and beautiful passages I have ever read. The words seem to speak across thousands of years with their proclamation of undying love- of one woman for another.

The book of Ruth is the story of a woman named Naomi, who had moved with her husband to a region called Moab from her own home in Bethlehemjudea. She had two sons with a Moabite man, and these sons married two women, Orpah and Ruth. In time, her husband and both her sons died. Naomi then decided to return to her home country and her daughters-in-law began to follow her, to which Naomi replied:

why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?

And she told them to return to their people, that even if she had a son right then and there, would they wait for him to grow to adulthood so that they could marry him? The daughter named Orpah then tearfully returned to her country, but Ruth hugged Naomi and told her that she would follow her to the end of time.

16And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

17Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

18When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.

So the two woman returned to Bethlehem where Naomi encouraged Ruth to help one of Naomi's "kinsman" with the harvest. In those times, a "kinsman" was a relative who could marry a relative's wife if the husband dies. Ruth endears herself to Boaz, the kinsman, who takes immediate notice of her and orders that she be given favored status among the other servant woman. She then goes to the place he sleeps and seduces him. In the morning, he gives her a bushel of barley, which is apparently a metaphor for being with child. Naomi is pleased with this news and tells Ruth to be patient and to find out what Boaz's intentions are.

Boaz then goes to some of the elders of their village and tells them of his intention to buy Ruth and Naomi's land from her. However, he is the second in line in kinship so he asks the first in line whether he intends to marry Ruth and buy Naomi's lot. The elder says no, so Boaz removes his sandal and gives it to the elder (kind of like spitting and shaking, I guess). Then Boaz proclaims that he is now the owner of Naomi's lot, the husband of Ruth. Ruth bore him a child and the village women proclaim that it is Naomi's son, Obed, grandfather of David.

The beauty of this story is in the omitted details. We see the passionate romance between Naomi and Ruth, their scheme to remain together, and the village's support of this relationship. Was it romantic? Was it platonic? Were they pragmatists in their plan? I like to believe that their love for another endured under this sanctioned marriage to Boaz; that the woman loved and cared for each other with their new child and the lineage of king David.

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